|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Blackburn Rovers|
Saturday, 6th February 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Barbet on the spot as QPR learn to win ugly - Report
Sunday, 7th Feb 2021 16:52 by Clive Whittingham
QPR won at Loftus Road for the first time in seven games dating back to November, beating Blackburn Rovers 1-0 in a hard fought encounter on Saturday.
Last season Queens Park Rangers beat Blackburn Rovers 4-2 at Loftus Road. The sun shone, the goals flowed, the crowd rejoiced, the noise reverberated, and all seemed right in London W12. Little did we know what lay around the corner. That feels like a lifetime ago, a fictitious match from a different world, a story made up to drift our children off to sleep. Only Yoann Barbet, Geoff Cameron and Ilias Chair remain from the starting eleven that day, and all four Rangers goalscorers now play for somebody else. Loftus Road has stood steadfastly empty for a calendar year.
That game was unusual for two reasons. The first is QPR won. Rangers v Rovers may look, feel and sound like the most Championship Championship game that ever did Championship, and you would think through this stodgy much of a muchness that results may level out over time, but in actual fact it was the first time in 15 attempts the Super Hoops had come out on top, dating all the way back to Ewood Park in 1999 when Stuart Wardley and Kevin Gallen combined to shove Brian Kidd over the edge and back into a career of assistant to the regional manager. There had been nine Blackburn wins and six draws since then, QPR only very occasionally coming close to banishing the Indian sign. You’re more likely to see some legislation passed in an episode of the West Wing than a Queens Park Rangers win against Blackburn.
The second is it was watchable. Whether it’s to do with history, or kit colours, or local rivalry, or the general styles of play favoured by clubs, there are fixtures that just look and feel attractive. You look forward to playing Norwich at home, or Newcastle away, or Southampton down there. There’s excitement to be had there, goals to be seen, football to be enjoyed. These are good games for QPR, we talk about Jan Stejskal’s last minute penalty save, Ray Jones’ Kelvin Davis humiliation, Devon ‘Bruno’ White striding through on Brian Gunn, and more besides, for years afterwards, decades even. We can see it and smell it and feel it years after the event, close your eyes and you’re almost back there, in that corner terrace at St James’ Park as Les Ferdinand scores off both posts, or on the Lower Loft watching him power past a clothesline of beleaguered yellow shirts. And then there’s QPR v Blackburn, a fixture that exists purely because we’re obligated to play everybody in the league twice. A necessity, from which dregs of enjoyment have to be bled. Like eating your own shoe because you’ve been lost in the mountains for too long. These are games to be endured, ticked off, and forgotten about immediately. Of the 15 winless games, QPR had failed to score a goal in seven of them.
On a freezing cold, grey, desolate Saturday on Plague Island, QPR beat Blackburn again. They needed to as well. Three consecutive away wins have kept the wolf from the door but it was six without success at home, and five without even scoring a goal. Beneath them in the table several clubs have suddenly remembered the aim of the game and begun the process of reeling in the bad, the mad, the sad, the complacent and the mediocre from midtable. Prior to Saturday the six teams immediately below QPR had shared 16 wins from five rounds of fixtures, the six teams above them had managed just four. Which group Rangers are going to find themselves in hinges on whether the home form can be reversed, making this victory rather vital. Watchable, however, it most certainly was not.
Bang. Blackburn kicked off, rolled it one step to the left, then whacked it straight into touch. The Paul Hart Gambit. And it’s live. Soon they were booting it out for a goal kick. QPR returned fire, belting it out for a goal kick at the other end. Back came Rovers, kicking it out for a goal kick. Then Rangers kicked it out for a goal kick. It quickly got to the point where throw ins were a veritable treat, like a Ferrero Rocher at the ambassador’s reception. Never mind the quality, feel the girth.
It would appear that Rovers had come to push, shove, bite, scream, shout, swear and bully QPR off the pitch. Maybe they'd heard about all our nice quiet boys. But actually, with Austin and Johansen in the team, and the back three bedding in wonderfully well, not so much any more. When Lewis Travis went careering into Charlie Austin for no particular reason and the QPR striker responded with a shove to the chest, Travis theatrically collapsed to the ground clutching his face. Fucking wanker. It’s like that is it? Jesus Christ. Yellow card for Chaz. Travis should be made to watch it on a loop while rugby league players gather round to point and laugh. And get a pair of shorts that fit, who you trying to impress with those?
Eventually, through law of averages, some chances were created. Chair made up for a poor set piece delivery with some great play and a low left-footed cross that returning Amari’i Bell had to clear at the far post, then couldn’t quite get a shot away through a crowd scene that eventually broke to Todd Kane who should have scored from eight yards but shot wide. Later Chair was allowed to run too far in the left channel and sent in a cross shot which Branthwaite, on loan from Everton, cleared from under his own crossbar.
Yellow cards, for Davenport for cracking into Rob Dickie, and Dom Ball for a deliberate haul back after Yoann Barbet had been caught and turned high up the pitch. Soon the Frenchman was knocking a volleyed diag so outlandish the camera dislodged from the tripod trying to keep it in shot. Rangers had started reasonably well but it was now Blackburn’s turn to threaten, fortunate to escape a high press on the edge of their own area but quickly down to the other end of the field for another foul by Ball right on the edge of the area – Seny Dieng’s one handed save from Adam Armstrong’s free kick under the cross bar fairly breath-taking. Stand up Seny, everybody look at Seny.
Hi ascent to QPR’s first choice keeper has contributed to a vastly improved defensive record this season. The R’s had shipped 48 goals by match 26 in 2019/20 and have conceded 20 fewer than that this time, with seven clean sheets prior to this already eclipsing last year’s total of six. The arrival of Rob Dickie has been another major factor in this, but Blackburn away had probably been his toughest assignment so far and Tony Mowbray was keen to examine that right side of QPR’s back three again here, picking 17-goal top scorer Armstrong wider on the left than normal and persistently feeding balls into the left channel for him to seize upon and try to isolate the former Oxford man. There was certainly joy to be had – a shot blocked on the edge of the area on 24 minutes, a beautifully executed one-two into space and then a low cross forced behind by Geoff Cameron possibly with some involvement from the goal post on 29, a cut back for one-time QPR youth teamer Harvey Elliott which he should have eaten alive but gave the full Hugill treatment to on 32, and a shot dragged wide after riding multiple attempted tackles on 39.
Blackburn were the better team, with the game’s outstanding player, as half time approached. Stefan Johansen, impressive at Watford on Monday, rather overrun here. Dom Ball a red card waiting to happen. Armstrong running amok down the left. Nil nil felt like a right result at the break, though it should be said referee Tony Harrington blew for that early, with Lee Wallace in possession, in space, and in the Rovers penalty box. Odd behaviour.
One long, straight ball nearly had Armstrong streaking through within a minute of the restart but, actually, it was QPR’s turn for a spell of pressure, sparked by Yoann Barbet taking it upon himself to start taking the corners, and then hanging around on the right wing for a bit. He’s like a footballing Rick Astley this bloke, capable of the finest classical performances but forced to sing silly pop songs for money. Not sure about the 30 yarder miles over the bar in the first half, or the second half volley that landed over by Television Centre, but he had had a lovely old time of it out on the wing for a bit at the start of the second half, testing Sam Gallagher at the near post with a whipped corner, combining brilliantly with Chair in the best move of the game to tee-up Austin for a chance you’d put your house on him scoring, and then finally stabbing the opening goal of the game into the bottom corner when Chair’s free kick sparked a scramble. Le petit dejeuner.
It might have been two had Chair’s touch not carried him too far wide after good approach work from Ball and Lyndon Dykes straight after, but this very quickly became a holding on mission. Blackburn sent on Bradley Dack, Lewis Holtby and then Ben Brereton for Holtby when he decided it was too bloody cold and retreated back to the comfort of the main stand. He might have scored in his brief time on the field had Seny Dieng not saved low to his right, the rebound seemed certain to provide an equaliser for Armstrong but for Rob Dickie’s unlikely block – Dickie a good deal more comfortable second half than first, with Todd Kane dropped deeper and narrower to plug that gap Armstrong had been exploiting.
Armstrong then tied Ball up in knots before shooting wide, and must have thought he’d equalised for real this time when he met the end of a flowing attack perfectly with his right foot and sent the ball screaming towards the top corner only for Dieng to make a remarkable finger tip save. It’s very rare that you come upon a young man like Seny. Who can save, who can catch, who can throw, who can punch and who can punch with power. Those five tools, you don’t see that very often. Most of the youngsters in the league we have an interest in have one or two tools and we’re hoping to develop and extra one. Mrs Dieng, your son has five
He is human though, and needed a much improved Lee Wallace to rescue a rare fumble with a brave, crunching, goal-saving back post tackle that will at least quieten his critics – alright, us – for a week. Captain of Glasgow Rangers indeed.
Blackburn flooded men forward and had all the ball, QPR looked ragged and leggy and tired. All of Warbs Warburton’s bench options were game chasers, when what he needed was physicality and the ability to maintain possession. Faysal Bettache came on and did a great turn. Albert Adomah had a go at chipping the goalkeeper from 50 yards which I’m all in favour of. Lyndon Dykes looked to have cleanly won the ball on the edge of the area to set up a four v Kaminski counter but referee Tony Harrington awarded a generous free kick – another frustrating afternoon for Robert The Bruce which ended with a nasty looking concussion. But for it all, no further Dieng saves, no significant scares, and a back three of Dickie, Cameron and Barbet really on top of their game. Six minutes of stoppage time came and went, Macauley Bonne in off the bench to chip home a second but for an offside flag.
And do you know what, I bloody loved it. Could I watch it every week? No. Was a draw probably a fair result? Yeh. Were we reliant on two brilliant saves from Dieng, an unbelievable block from Dickie, a huge tackle at the back post from Wallace? Yeh. Did our goal only come through the fortune of the ball falling in the right place at the right time? Of course. Blackburn finished with seven shots on target to our two, Dieng making two saves for the ages, Kaminski not really in need of changing out of his kit. But it was the un-QPR-like nature of the win that made it so satisfying. We’ve had to play really well to get wins this season, and even slight dips below that have meant defeat. Being able to dig in, scrap, fight, and arm wrestle a win in this manner, against a good opponent, felt like a huge moment for this team. From zero wins against sides in the top half all season, Rangers now have two in a week, and have won four of the last five.
The only shame was not being there to roar them home through the stoppage time. Silver Lining would have sounded very sweet indeed after a hard fought first home win since November.
QPR: Dieng 8; Dickie 7, Cameron 7, Barbet 8; Kane 6, Johansen 5 (Bettache 74, 7), Ball 6, Chair 6, Wallace 7; Dykes 5 (Adomah 83, -), Austin 5 (Bonne 74, 6)
Subs not used: Lumley, Thomas, Willock, Kakay, Hämäläinen, Kelman
Goals: Barbet 54 (unassisted)
Bookings: Austin 5 (unsporting), Ball 20 (foul), Adomah 90+2 (foul)
Blackburn: Kaminski 6; Nyambe 7 (Harwood-Bellis 62, 6), Lenihan 6, Branthwaite 6, Bell 6; Rothwell 6 (Dack 62, 6), Travis 6, Davenport 6 (Holtby 62, 6 (Brereton 82, -)); Gallagher 5 (Dolan 74, 6), Elliott 6, Armstrong 7
Subs not used: Downing, Pears, Buckley, Bennett
Bookings: Davenport 9 (foul), Gallagher 60 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Yoann Barbet 8 Been playing well for a few weeks now, ideally suited to the switch to a back three, and crowned a commanding defensive display here with a maverick stint on the right wing and winning goal at the start of the second half.
Referee – Tony Harrington (Cleveland) 6 Did well not to be conned by Travis’ ridiculous theatrics and attempt to cheat a red card for Charlie Austin early on, thought I think both players should have been yellow carded. Other cards correct, but I thought he was very generous in awarding Blackburn a free kick when Dykes caught them pissing around on the edge of their own box late on. The half time thing was odd, though I’ve seen it suggested he may have actually blown for a foul against Charlie Austin.
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